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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Charlie Hales Backpedals on Controversial Permit

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 7:01 PM

Facing outraged citizens and the vexation of colleagues, Mayor Charlie Hales is pulling rein on recent changes that would likely mean clear sailing for the controversial 37th Street Apartments.

The mayor sent out a press release at 5:40 pm indicating he's instructed Portland's Bureau of Development Services to stall its vetting of a revised permit for the project — an 81-unit apartment building that's drawn umbrage for its lack of on-site parking.

“The city strives for fairness and doesn’t always get it on the first shot,” Hales said in the release. “That’s why I’m taking this action.”

This is backpedaling by the mayor.

It was only on Monday, after all, that BDS Director Paul Scarlett decided to allow the developer of the project — Beaverton builder Dennis Sackhoff — to revise his permit application, a move which ran contrary to BDS' earlier position Sackhoff would have to file a brand new application (and face a public hearing).

The 37th Street Apartments were brought to a halt last month, when the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled the city erred issuing a permit because of a minor design matter. The building now sits on the corner of SE Division Street and 37th Avenue, partially built.

Sackhoff was ready with a revised permit on Tuesday, and only after he turned it in did BDS announce it had changed its mind. BDS had been in contact with Hales' office throughout the whole process, staffers said.

The sudden reversal set off no shortage of anger, both from the neighbors who oppose the project and city commissioners.

"If you tell people something and a few days later you learn it might not be true, I think you have an obligation to say: 'Hey we were wrong,'" said City Commissioner Steve Novick, who's been deriding Hales' treatment of the matter since Tuesday.

Novick said he'd expressed his displeasure to Hales' office, and that he received a response today — though he declined to say what it was or whether it satisfied him.

The timing of the permitting process is vitally important for Sackhoff now, as the city council prepares to discuss new mandatory parking minimums approved by the city's Planning and Sustainability Commission last week.

As the Mercury has reported, Sackhoff could be walking a fine line with this project. Depending on how his permit application is handled, the development could be left subject to any new rules council passes.

In this evening's release, Hales signaled an intent to take the matter up in council April 4. He also seemed to indicate Sackhoff would have to file for a new permit, after all, and that he'll need to wait until April 11 to do so.

"If the mayor has come out like this, it's a very powerful statement saying what BDS was doing was questionable at best from a legal standpoint," said Judah Gold-Markel, a member of the citizens' group that's fought the development. "We hope there will be more transparency. "

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